Language Immersion and International Volunteering

by Kristie Lewis

If you really want to increase your chances of becoming fluent in a second language, you are going to have to put yourself in an environment where immersion is possible. Traveling to a country or region where the language is primarily spoken is the best way to make that happen, and the longer you stay, the more you will learn.

International travel is expensive, though. Most people can't afford to take time off to travel for the sake of language immersion alone, and that's why international volunteering is such a great idea. Besides being a wonderful opportunity to become fully engaged in another language and culture, it's a program that works toward a greater good; a win-win for everyone involved.

Several volunteer abroad programs have been established across the world. Many of them have official websites that are easy to search for on the internet. Volunteers are usually given the opportunity to choose the country and project of their interest, and many of these projects also double as internship opportunities for college students. Examples of volunteer projects include child care, health care, construction, wildlife conservation, education, sports and environmental.

Programs have volunteer opportunities all over the world. However, because they want to work with communities that are most in need, there is a deep interest inthe third-world and developing countries of Central and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. This, in no way, means you can't immerse yourself in Western languages, such as French, German and Italian. There are many third-world and developing countries that were once colonies of Western nations and still speak the language of those nations. For example, French is the official language of 29 countries, many of which are in Africa.

Although you will pay for your travel expenses, the cost of volunteering is usually significantly lower than traveling for leisure. Your money is used to pay for the resources you will need before, during and after the trip; such as volunteer training, vaccinations, food, lodging, transportation, emergency medical insurance, etc. Most programs require their volunteers to stay at a base camp or with a host family in or near the community they are serving. Program duration can be as short as a few weeks to as long as a year.

It is wise to do as much research as possible before choosing a volunteer abroad program. The best programs are usually recommended by other reputable, well-known organizations. They sometimes also partner with other non-profit groups. If you are currently enrolled in a university, ask your study abroad department which volunteer abroad programs they recommend (or partner with). Colleges and universities usually work with their students, helping them find the best program for their needs.

There are a few key things you want to look for in a good international volunteer program. First: Does the program exhibit a trusted interest in your health and safety? If it doesn't have a plan set up for ensuring you will be return home healthy and happy, it is probably not the best choice. Second: Is the program transparent about how it spends your money? Most reputable programs share a visual breakdown of how it uses the money is receives. Third: Is the program recognized by other non-profit organizations or your government? Only choose a program that is known and recommended by other trustworthy organizations, such as a government department or a registered non-profit group.

Once you have chosen your program and country, prepare yourself for full language immersion. Whether you already know the language or are completely new to it, volunteering abroad will put you in the environment you need to be in to become a fluent speaker. You will be surprised at just how quickly the words will flow.

About the writer

An expert in the construction industry, freelance writer Kristie Lewis offers tips and advice on choosing the best construction management colleges. She welcomes any questions or comments at


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